How do you know if someone is a good mom?
Really take a moment to answer that.
I’m going to guess that your answer said stuff like this:
- Her children’s needs always come before her needs
- She never yells or speaks harshly
- Her children excel at school or day care
- She is very involved in every aspect of family life
- Both she and her kids are happy and positive
Sound familiar? Those of us in the West have been told that this is what it takes to be a good mom and most of us are so busy trying to live up to these standards that we don’t spend a lot of time questioning them. But we should.
This ‘good mother’ archetype has a name: Intensive Mothering. You already know this concept because it’s all around you. It’s the type of mothering that demands that you become child-centered, completely self-sacrificing and emotionally consumed with raising your children. It encourages moms to dedicate endless energy and time into the development of their children, as though this is the golden ticket to raising happy, healthy and successful kids.
For a lot of us, intensive mothering is basically the worst. Trying to live up to these standards has caused me to do a lot of dumb stuff. Like the time I hid all evidence of bottles from my doula because I didn’t want her to know I was supplementing formula at night so I could get a little extra sleep. Or the time I stayed up until 3:00am on a work night making spider web cupcakes for my eight year old’s birthday party until they looked Pinterest ready. Can you believe that not one single eight year old snapped a pic of my cupcakes and posted it to social media so people could praise all my efforts? I had to do it myself.
What makes intensive mothering so dangerous is that it disguises itself as the proof that we love our children. I missed out on A LOT sleep before I figured out that this is a lie. The myth that how much we care for our children can be measured in self-sacrifice is wearing us out. It’s linked to skyrocketing rates of postpartum depression, fuels the mommy wars, and generates a lot of fear and shame.
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Olivia Scobie, M.A., ACC, CPCC, MSP